ORLANDO, Fla. — Magic forward Jonathan Isaac stood at the scorer’s table, had a brief chat with coach Jamahl Mosley, and calmly removed his shooting jersey. He turned to the court, inserted his mouthpiece and stepped onto an NBA floor to play his first game in over 900 days.
The long wait was over. As he checked into the game between two free throws from Jayson Tatum, the sold-out crowd of 19,196 at the Amway Center showed their appreciation with a rousing ovation.
Isaac, 25, had not played an official NBA game since Aug. 2, 2020, when he tore the ACL in his left knee during a game in the Orlando bubble. He missed all of the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons and half of the 2022-23 season before making his return against the Boston Celtics on Monday night.
With a tight minute limit, Isaac finished with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting in just under 10 minutes of action as the Magic defeated the Celtics 113-98.
Isaac said he had a lot on his mind when he checked in. He also admitted that there were times when he didn’t know if that day would ever come, but he leaned on his faith in times of doubt.
“There were days when I thought I didn’t know if I wanted to continue. But on the other hand I have to thank Christ. To be able to go back to my faith and say that God has me on this journey for a purpose. I know I was made to play basketball. I was created to give glory to God on this stage.”
Isaac was Orlando’s first sub of the night, and he checked in alone – something Mosley did on purpose so the crowd could take in the moment.
Isaac’s first touch of the evening came not too long after he checked in. When Orlando first came down the court, Isaac found himself with the ball in his hands.
He caught it along the baseline and attempted to ride on Boston’s Jaylen Brown. Isaac said he thought Brown would pick up an attack, but since he didn’t, it caused Isaac to make a misstep when trying to make a layup that didn’t come through.
The Magic’s ensuing offensive possession allowed Isaac to land the shot – a 13-foot shot directly over Brown.
“Call out to Coach Moses that he designed one for me,” Isaac said. “It was really supposed to be a catch and a jumper, but they played it well and it was just me and Jaylen. So I just said get some and I was able to achieve my turnaround. I really like this shot. When he fell I just said, ‘Thank you.’ Just get that out of the way.”
Isaac’s first stint lasted just under four and a half minutes. Aside from the jumper over Brown, he added a layup but was only 2 of 5 off the ground.
He admitted fatigue was a problem early on.
“That kind of wind came over me. In the last minute I could hardly speak, I was breathing so heavily,” Isaac said. “But on the second rotation in the second half, those four minutes, I just started to relax and just feel good.”
There was a notable difference in the second half when Isaac returned. He made a pair of 3-pointers and grabbed two steals, including one where he dealt Paolo Banchero for a slam in his final game of the night. He checked out forever at 2:08 in the third quarter.
“I thought he was great,” Mosley said. “I thought he did a great job playing with a certain level of composure. I think that was the importance of him getting the G-League time. Obviously there was a lot of emotion and rightly so so I thought it was great how he treated himself.
Mosley and Isaac shared a moment before the game. Mosley took a seat at the end of Magic’s bench and called Isaac over as he left the seat. The two had a brief conversation, during which Mosley expressed how happy he was to see Isaac again.
Prior to his two games in the Orlando bubble, Isaac had not played since January 1, 2020 when he sprained the same left knee. His last game at the Amway Center was December 30, 2019 when he contributed 13 points, nine rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
The only Magic teammates left on the team who participated in this game were Markelle Fultz, Terrence Ross, and Mo Bamba. Neither Ross nor Bamba saw minutes against Boston on Monday.
“This night could have gone so many ways, and for how it went, I appreciate him for it. So there is a peace, a relief, so let’s move on.”
Cole Anthony, who spent some time with Isaac on the floor Monday, said he was very happy to see Isaac back on the floor after watching him play from the sidelines during his first two-and-a-half seasons with the team had to watch.
“Being out for so long can definitely be frustrating and I know he probably felt like he could have come back sooner,” Anthony said. “But he just gave great support to the team as a whole. He watches all our games, only beats us when we play well. He hits me when I play badly to cheer me up. Just an overall great locker room guy and a pleasure to have as a teammate.”
Anthony said he’s played with Isaac Pickup before, so it was nice to actually share an NBA court with him.
Magic sophomore Franz Wagner has his locker next to Isaac’s and knows how much Monday night meant to his teammate. He was also excited to see what a healthy Isaac could do for the young Magic team’s future.
“I think even without some of the guys, we found some of our identity,” Wagner told ESPN. “I think our goal for the season should be to keep working on it. We have new rotations, we need to figure all this out. But we have so much talent and so much size in every position.
“But most importantly, we just have great guys. Everyone cares about the right things. You saw that today when (Isaac) came on. We all want the next one to be successful.”
When Isaac finally checked out of the game in the third quarter, he briefly disappeared from the bench. When he came back, he took a seat on the bench and continued to cheer on his teammates.
When the night was over, his teammates doused him with water.
“Relief and peace,” Isaac said when asked how he felt about his time on the pitch. “Peace like ‘God, you got me.’ I appreciate that. He’s really faithful. I just want to thank him. Because that night could have gone so many ways and it went the way it did, I appreciate him for it. So there’s a peace, a relief, so let’s move on.”